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european hornets

European Hornets

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What Are European Hornets?

european hornet

European hornets, scientifically known as Vespa crabro, are the largest eusocial wasps found in Europe and are known for their impressive size, distinctive appearance, and fascinating social behavior. These hornets play a significant role in their ecosystems and have garnered both interest and concern from people due to their size and stinging ability.

  • Physical Characteristics: European hornets are typically larger than other wasps, measuring around 1 to 1.5 inches (2.5 to 3.8 cm) in length. They have a robust body with a black and yellow-brown coloration. Their head is brown with prominent reddish-brown compound eyes. One of the key distinguishing features is their large mandibles, which they use for capturing prey and building their nests.

  • Range: European hornets are native to Europe and can be found across the continent, extending into parts of Asia and North Africa. They have also been introduced to some regions of North America.

  • Habitat: These hornets are adaptable and can be found in a variety of habitats, including woodlands, orchards, gardens, and urban areas. They build their nests in hollow trees, wall cavities, and sometimes even in human-made structures like attics.

  • Diet: European hornets are carnivorous and primarily feed on insects, including flies, caterpillars, and other wasp species. They are also known to scavenge for sugary substances, such as nectar and fruit juices, especially in late summer and early autumn.

  • Social Structure: Like other hornets and social wasps, European hornets have a hierarchical social structure. A mature colony typically consists of a single queen, workers, and male drones. The queen is responsible for laying eggs, while the workers collect food, build and defend the nest, and care for the young. Male drones are produced later in the season for mating purposes.

  • Nesting Behavior: European hornets construct their nests using a mixture of saliva and wood fibers, forming papery nests that can become quite large. The nests are typically hidden in natural crevices or man-made structures, making them challenging to spot. Nests can contain hundreds to thousands of individuals, depending on the stage of development.

  • Stinging Ability: European hornets are known for their potent sting, which they use to defend their nests. While their sting is painful, it is not typically life-threatening unless someone is allergic to their venom. Unlike honeybees, hornets can sting repeatedly.

  • Ecological Importance: European hornets play a crucial ecological role by helping control insect populations, especially pests that harm trees and crops. They are beneficial pollinators as well, aiding in the reproduction of various plants.

European hornets are remarkable insects known for their size, distinctive appearance, and complex social structure. While their stings can be painful, they are valuable members of their ecosystems, contributing to pest control and pollination efforts in their native habitats. Understanding their biology and behavior is essential for both appreciating their role in nature and managing potential human-wildlife interactions.

European Hornet Nests

European hornet nests are the intricate structures constructed by colonies of European hornets (Vespa crabro) for shelter, reproduction, and raising their young. These nests are fascinating examples of social insect architecture and can be found in various locations, typically concealed from view due to their protective strategies. Here, we'll delve into the details of European hornet nests:

Construction: European hornet nests are meticulously crafted using a mixture of wood fibers and saliva. This blend creates a papery material that the hornets use to build the nest's distinctive layers. Unlike the nests of some other social wasps that hang suspended from branches or structures, European hornet nests are often built within natural cavities or enclosed spaces, which offers them added protection from the elements and predators. This can include hollow trees, wall voids, attics, and sometimes underground burrows.

Structure: A typical European hornet nest consists of multiple combs or layers, arranged vertically. The combs are composed of hexagonal cells, much like honeybee hives, where the hornets raise their offspring. The outer layer of the nest serves as insulation and protection. Over time, as the colony grows, the nest can expand both in size and the number of combs.

Size: European hornet nests can vary significantly in size, ranging from a few inches in diameter to several feet across for well-established colonies. As the season progresses, and the colony becomes larger, the nest's size and complexity increase.

Life Cycle: The nest's life cycle is closely tied to the colony's life cycle. In spring, a young mated queen emerges from hibernation and begins constructing a small nest. She then lays eggs, which develop into worker hornets. As the season advances, more eggs are laid, and the colony expands, resulting in the growth of the nest. Toward the end of the season, the colony produces male drones and new queens for reproduction.

Hiding and Defense: European hornet nests are well-hidden to protect them from potential threats. Their preference for nesting in enclosed spaces and the outer layers of the nest act as a shield. Additionally, these hornets are highly defensive of their nests and will aggressively protect them if they perceive any threat. Their stings can be painful, and multiple stings from a swarm can pose health risks, especially to individuals with allergies.

Seasonal Cycle: The nest's lifecycle is seasonal, with the colony reaching its peak size in late summer or early autumn. After this point, the reproductive hornets, including the new queens and males, leave the nest for mating. The remaining workers die off as the weather turns colder, and the old queen typically perishes as well. The nest is abandoned and does not survive through the winter.

European hornet nests are remarkable structures that serve as the central hub for the colony's activities, including raising offspring and sheltering the hornets. Their construction, location, and lifecycle are all fascinating aspects of the intricate social dynamics and behaviors exhibited by these hornets. While their nests can be imposing, understanding them is essential for safe coexistence with these beneficial insects.

European Hornet Size

European hornets (Vespa crabro) are among the largest wasps found in the United States and Europe, and are known for their impressive size. The size of European hornets can vary, but on average, they measure approximately 1 to 1.5 inches (2.5 to 3.8 centimeters) in length.

These hornets have a robust and somewhat stocky body, which contributes to their notable size. Their large size distinguishes them from many other wasp species and is one of the key characteristics used to identify them. Additionally, European hornets have a distinctive black and yellow-brown coloration, making them visually striking insects.

Their substantial size is not only a notable feature but also plays a role in their predatory behavior, as they are capable of capturing and subduing larger prey than smaller wasp species. It's important to note that while European hornets are large and can deliver painful stings, they are generally not aggressive unless their nest is threatened, and they play a valuable ecological role in controlling insect populations in their habitats.

European Hornet Sting

European hornets (Vespa crabro) are capable of delivering painful stings when they feel threatened or when their nest is disturbed. These stings can be a source of concern for humans, especially those who are allergic to insect stings. Here is some more information about European hornet stings:

Sting Characteristics:

  • Painful: European hornet stings are known for being particularly painful. The sensation is often described as sharp and burning, and the pain can persist for hours.
  • Multiple Stings: Unlike honeybees, European hornets can sting repeatedly without immediately dying. When a hornet feels threatened, it may deliver multiple stings, which can exacerbate the discomfort.
  • Venom: The venom injected by European hornets contains a mixture of proteins and chemicals that can cause local and, in some cases, systemic reactions in humans. The venom is used to immobilize prey and defend the nest.

Allergic Reactions:

While most people experience localized pain, redness, swelling, and itching at the sting site, some individuals may be allergic to European hornet stings. Allergic reactions can range from mild to severe and may include symptoms such as:

  • Swelling beyond the sting site: Swelling may occur in areas distant from the sting, such as the face, lips, or throat.
  • Difficulty breathing: Severe allergic reactions can cause airway constriction and difficulty in breathing.
  • Hives: Raised, itchy welts or hives can develop on the skin.
  • Nausea and vomiting: Some individuals may experience gastrointestinal symptoms.
  • Dizziness or fainting: In severe cases, anaphylaxis can lead to a drop in blood pressure, dizziness, or loss of consciousness.


If you are stung by a European hornet and experience an allergic reaction, it is essential to seek immediate medical attention. For mild reactions, the following steps may help alleviate symptoms:

  • Wash the sting site with soap and water.
  • Apply a cold compress to reduce pain and swelling.
  • Over-the-counter antihistamines or pain relievers may provide relief for localized symptoms.


To avoid European hornet stings, take the following precautions:

  • Be cautious around their nests, especially during the daytime when they are most active.
  • Wear protective clothing, such as long sleeves and pants, when working in areas where hornets may be present.
  • Avoid swatting or making sudden movements if a hornet approaches you, as this can trigger a defensive response.
  • If you are aware of a European hornet nest on your property, it is advisable to contact a professional pest control service for safe removal.

European hornet stings can be painful, and some individuals may experience allergic reactions that require immediate medical attention. While these hornets are generally not aggressive unless provoked, it's essential to exercise caution when in their vicinity and take appropriate measures to prevent stings if you are allergic or sensitive to insect venom.

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